What Does a Low White Blood Cell Count Mean?


if you took a drop of blood and smeared it between two pieces of glass and looked at it under a microscope it might look something like this a whole bunch of little round red blood cells and then this big white blood cell red blood cells carry oxygen and white blood cells are our immune system foot soldiers we made sure now 50 billion new ones a day in response to inflammation or infection that number could shoot up to a hundred billion or more in fact that’s what pus is largely composed of millions and millions of white blood cells testing how many white blood cells we have in any given time our white blood cell count it’s one of the most common laboratory tests doctors order we ordered hundreds of millions of times a year so for example if you end up in the emergency room with abdominal pain having a white blood cell count above about 10 billion per quart of blood may be a sign you may have appendicitis most Americans fall between 4.5 and 10 but most Americans are unhealthy just because 4 point 5 to 10 is normal doesn’t mean it’s ideal it’s like having a normal cholesterol level in a society where it’s normal to die of heart disease a number-one killer the average American is overweight so if your weight is quote-unquote normal that’s actually a bad thing in fact having excess fat itself causes inflammation within the body so no surprise those who are obese walk around with 2 billion more white cells per quart in their blood so maybe obese individuals should have their own normal values someone with a 47 inch waist walking into an emergency room with a white count of 12 13 14 may not have appendicitis or an infection that may just be there baseline normal level given all the inflammation they have in their body from the excess fat so normal levels are not necessarily healthy levels it’s like smoking if you take identical twins and one smokes and the other doesn’t the smoker is gonna end up with a significantly higher white cell count in Japan for example as smoking rates have steadily dropped so has the normal white count range such that about 8% of never smoking men would now be flagged as having abnormally low white counts if you use the cutoff like four but that’s because most people were smoking before when they set that cutoff so maybe three would be a better lower limit the inflammation caused by smoking may actually be one of the reasons cigarettes increase the risk of heart attack strokes and other inflammatory diseases so the people who have lower white counts have less heart disease cancer and overall mortality yes yes and yes people with lower white blood cell counts live longer even within the normal range every one point drop may be associated with a 20% drop in the risk of premature death this is a log scale so there’s like an exponential increase in risk as white count goes up even within the so-called normal range this is for men the same is found for women the white blood cell count is a widely available inexpensive measure of systemic inflammation at around age 85 in this study half of women who started out with white blood cell counts under 5.6 we’re still alive whereas 80% of those that started out over seven were dead and seven eight nine ten would be considered normal being at the high normal range may place one at three times the risk of dying from heart disease compared to being at the lower end same length found for african-american men and women same in middle age same at age 75 same at age 85 same even in our 20s and 30s a 17% increase in coronary artery disease incidents for every single point higher the higher your white count the worse your arterial function and the stiffer your arteries so no wonder white blood cell count WBC count is a useful predictor of artery disease in your heart brain legs and neck and high blood pressure even diabetes even diabetes according to a compilation of 20 different studies everything from fatty liver disease to having an enlarged prostate and having a higher white blood cell count is associated with an increased risk of dying from cancer as well and these are all within the normal range so what would the ideal range be I’ll cover that next [Music] you

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